Last week I gave a talk at the 2010 Emerging Technologies conference at MIT. I talked about many of my favorite topics, but with a particular orientation toward the future of the technology industry.
Here’s a transcript of the talk:
The Emerging Computation Revolution
When we look back on the history of technology, I think we’ll see that the greatest revolution of the 20th century was the arrival of the concept of computation.
And in these years today, I think we’re seeing something else happen: the emergence of a second set of revolutions made possible by the concept of computation.
And it’s those revolutions that I want to talk about here today.
Now, needless to say, I’m quite involved in these. And for me it’s really been about a 30-year journey getting to the point we’re at today—slowly understanding what’s possible.
Well, behind me here I have one of the fruits of that—Wolfram|Alpha.
And I want to talk about that, and about the idea of knowledge-based computing that it’s making possible.
There’s a lot of knowledge in the world. A lot of data that’s been systematically collected. A lot of methods, models, algorithms, expertise that have been built up.
And ever since I was a kid I’ve wondered whether we could somehow make all of this computable. Whether we could somehow build something that’s a bit like those old science fiction computers.
So that we could just walk up to a machine, and immediately be able to answer any question that can be answered on the basis of the knowledge that our civilization has accumulated.
It’s an ambitious goal. And when I first thought about this nearly 40 years ago, it seemed very far off.
But every decade or so since then I’ve returned to this. And finally, earlier this past decade, I started to think that perhaps it wasn’t crazy to actually try to build something like this.
There were several things that made that possible.